August 28, 2005

THINK OF AN ELEPHANT:

Did the Cindy Sheehan vigil succeed? (Linda Feldmann, 8/29/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Cindy Sheehan's month of fame - or infamy, depending on one's vantage point - is drawing to a close. The grieving mother of a US soldier slain in Iraq will end her vigil at the president's ranch on Wednesday, almost certainly having failed in her stated goal of a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Bush.

However, while she was there the Iraqis wrote a constitution which will make it easier to bring all the troops home promptly. It's all about framing....

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 28, 2005 7:31 PM
Comments

The reason why Sheehan is able to attract Bush's attention is because they are both part of, and thrive, albeit unwittingly on Sheehan's part, on an intellectual deficiency that is one of the hallmarks of American culture - the inability to appreciate reason for itself till it is complemented by a 'celebrity' of some sort or is able to attach itself to a cult of the personality.

That is why Bush is less bothered by larger demonstrations than by personalities because he himself depends on the same support base as these oppositional personalities. Sheehan’s popularity is drawing ‘votes’ from the same intellectually challenged portion of the electorate that put Bush into power. Popular protests not rallying around personalities but ideas are disregardable because they are an insignificant part of the American population as can be seen by the pervasity of ‘celebrity-worship’, amongst others, in the United States.

On the basis of this logic, for GI Joe to meet with Cindy is the act of a celebrity validating another as one. This will serve as a validation of her groupies as not being mistaken in their choice and may even instigate more to join her in her cause.

The institution of the American Presidency and the value attributed to it is itself a testament to the value of the celebrity. The American President is the prototypic celebrity drawing on a prototypic electorate that has over time learnt that all value lies in the wrapping. Any one open to reason will realise that value can never be centred around a single individual or institution since the value of these can only be increasingly realised when it is continuously subjected to the scepticism of the public.

Posted by: Inquisitor at August 28, 2005 11:35 PM

Yes, but the next reasonable person will be the first.

Posted by: oj at August 28, 2005 11:44 PM

Inquisitor:

Your essay sounds like you've written (or read) a dissertation about the effects of celebrity on culture, and are now applying your thesis to every conceivable situation.

However, in this case you've had to ignore several crucial facts, in an effort to cram a round peg into a square hole.

[T]hey are both part of [...] an intellectual deficiency that is one of the hallmarks of American culture...

Really ?
ONLY American culture ?

Please point out for me ONE complete culture on Earth whose hallmark is intellectual SUPERIORITY.
I specify "complete culture", because there are many SUB-cultures to whom that would apply, including many that exist within the larger American culture - brain surgeons and rocket scientists, to name two.

...the inability to appreciate reason for itself till it is complemented by a 'celebrity' of some sort or is able to attach itself to a cult of the personality.

In the first place, that is normal behavior for social animals, such as humans.

The "Alpha" animals command much more attention and obedience than do ordinary members of the pack. Even monkeys have "celebrities"; in a labratory setting, monkeys are willing to trade choice bits of food to look at a photo of the troop leader.

Secondly, what do you mean by "appreciate reason for itself" ?
Do you mean "recognize a good idea" ?
There have been many good ideas implemented by government, or incorporated into the American culture at large, without being pushed by a charismatic leader.

Some examples would be the production and deployment of the F-22, setting a goal of 30% of America's aircraft being uncrewed by 2020, the Atkins/South Beach diets, hybrid vehicles, especially SUVs, DVRs, and shopping at Wal~Mart.

Some examples of ideas that have NOT been implemented, DESPITE being endorsed by celebrities, include electing Sen. Kerry as POTUS, SS reform, a flat tax, and exercising regularly.

Sheehan’s popularity is drawing ‘votes’ from the same intellectually challenged portion of the electorate that put Bush into power.

Not necessarily, since a large number of America's intellectually-challenged people voted to REPLACE Bush in '04.
It's much more likely that Sheehan is popular among the intellectually-challenged OPPOSITION to Bush, rather than among Bush's intellectually-challenged supporters.

[I]deas are disregardable because they are an insignificant part of the American population as can be seen by the pervasity of ‘celebrity-worship’ [...] in the United States.

Again, not a uniquely American phenomenon, although in some other cultures the celebrities are hereditary nobility, as well as media stars.

On the basis of this logic, for GI Joe to meet with Cindy is the act of a celebrity validating another as one. This will serve as a validation of her groupies as not being mistaken in their choice and may even instigate more to join her in her cause.

Also correct on the basis of the dynamics of power and group interactions.
If Bush is perceived as being FORCED to meet with Sheehan, OF COURSE it validates Sheehan's authority, and reinforces the beliefs of those who agree with Sheehan, or who have joined her "movement", such as it is.

The institution of the American Presidency and the value attributed to it is itself a testament to the value of the celebrity.

Or maybe people rightly feel that it's valuable to have access to the most powerful person in the world.
The value attached to the Presidency doesn't follow the celebrity of being President, the celebrity follows the power of being able to change national policy, potentially change American culture, and of course, the President also has the potential ability to destroy any nation on Earth.

The American President is the prototypic celebrity drawing on a prototypic electorate that has over time learnt that all value lies in the wrapping.

Then why isn't Brad Pitt or George Clooney President ?

You are committing the classic error in analyzing American culture - assuming that what America superficially pays attention to reflects the innermost values and strengths of Americans.

In fact, America is a land of abundance, where most people are quietly content, and fads rise and fall at the whim of an amusement-seeking populace.
However, when aroused from their self-indulgent trance, the American people are far more resilient and assured than the casual onlooker would have given them credit for.

[V]alue can never be centred around a single individual or institution since the value of these can only be increasingly realised when it is continuously subjected to the scepticism of the public.

ANY American President, of any party, from any era, would be darkly amused by the notion that the President isn't "continuously subjected to the scepticism of the public".

Congress doesn't receive as much attention, but even they go through periodic shake-ups, where the public gets tired of the same faces and attitudes, and effects a sweeping change.

So, to recapitulate, Americans love to follow the lives of celebrities, but few Americans look to celebrities for advice on matters of importance.

There are shallow and ill-informed people on every side of every cultural divide in America.

The office of President of the United States of America confers celebrity on those who hold the office, but celebrity DOES NOT confer the office of POTUS on anyone.

The U.S. presidential elections of, for instance, 1980, 1988, 1992, 2000, and 2004, were decided on the basis of ideas, not who was the best-looking or who had the most appealing campaign commercials.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2005 1:43 AM

Thanks, Mr. Herdegen, that was a great post. Much better than what I would have written which would have been a lot shorter and much more profane.

Posted by: Governor Breck [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2005 7:34 AM

Only FOX that terrible right wing propaganda arm of the fascist government has had the audacity to say that sheehan wants "a SECOND meeting with the President"..Horrors horrors.

Posted by: TedM at August 29, 2005 10:14 AM

Sheehan's goal was a second meeting with Bush. That didn't happen, nor is it likely to happen in the future, so I guess it's fair to say her vigil failed.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 29, 2005 10:31 AM

Inquisitor makes a valid point. The presidency is, constitutionally, a fairly weak office. The power of the presidency -- which is in practice much greater than it is in theory -- comes from the unique national position that president holds to speak for, even embody, the nation. This position may legitimately, albeit cynically, be called "celebrity."

As for the idea that President Bush cares about Sheehan, or about the intellectual elite, I have no idea why Inquisitor thinks that.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 29, 2005 10:46 AM

David:

Don't you get it though? It's a parody. He's written an entire essay about the pointlessness of our obsession with the president's celebrity. He is the prototype he decries.

Posted by: oj at August 29, 2005 10:51 AM

Michael did a very good job with a good, old-fashioned "Fisking."

The key to this issue is to understand the very conservative notion of deference.

Many, many of us are too busy, or recognizedly too modestly endowed with resources of intellect and education to formulate our own answers to life's questions, whereupon we defer others more equipped, or to the mos maiorum, the customs of the ancestors, for guidance.

This does not mean that a gladiator or charioteer may have some special wisdom which may help us decide whether Carthage is to be destroyed.
It further does not mean that a bereaved parent of a legionaire lost at Cannae has superior insight into the matter.

On the contrary, we do not turn to the occupants of lifeboats for guidance on laws against cannibalism. Personal insight is a disqualifying factor.

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 29, 2005 11:53 AM

Sorry, I missed it. That is funny.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 29, 2005 2:22 PM
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